Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, December 24, 2022

Homeless, lonely, and hungry

Thursday Dec. 22, 2022


Confession time – I admit to having occasional feelings of envy around Christmas. Not for someone’s 80” TV set, their new Lexus, or their holiday in Arizona. 

            I’m an only child, you see. So was Joan. We have no siblings, no extended family. And since her brother’s death, 40 years ago, our daughter Sharon has also been an only child. She has no uncles or aunts, no biological first cousins. 

            I realize that having a large extended family is not always a bed of thornless roses. Rivalries can emerge. Differences can fester. But at least it’s together. 

            Bob Cratchitt’s family, as portrayed in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, may have been penniless, but they had each other. 

            I wonder how today’s homeless celebrate Christmas. If at all. 


Today’s homeless

            I’ve never been homeless. I hope I never am. But I dare wish that there’s some kind of esprit de corps, some kind of camaraderie, that enables homeless people today to share what little they may have. A grilled cheese sandwich. A slice of pizza.

            Although I reveal my prejudices if I suspect that they’re more likely to share alcohol or drugs.

            Occasionally, around this time of year, a TV station will send its cameras into an encampment of homeless people for the obligatory human-interest story. But I notice that the cameras stay outside the tents and makeshift shelters. Perhaps to respect their subjects’ privacy. Or perhaps those subjects won’t let the cameras any closer.

            And I wonder how today’s news media would treat the most famous homeless couple of all -- Mary and Joseph. 


No room -- for them

            We’ve all heard the story told in the gospel attributed to someone called Luke. About how Mary and Joseph travelled from their home village of Nazareth. To Bethlehem. To be formally registered in the city of their legendary ancestor, King David. 

            But have you really listened to that story?

            When you read that “there was no room for them in the inn,” do you hear those two little words “for them”? Because the inn was full of their relatives. Everyone who claimed descent from David had to go to Bethlehem. No exceptions.

            But there was no room for them. Because Mary was pregnant before marriage. Jewish law said she should have been stoned. 

            And Joseph had disgraced his family honour by refusing to reject her. By accepting her, a fallen woman. 

            The inn was full of their extended families. But there was no room, for them. 

            So they ended up sheltering in a stable. Where at least the animals radiated some warmth. 

            You may also notice that the Bible says nothing about food. 

            What did they eat, out there among the cattle and sheep? Cattle Chow? 

            Did the innkeeper’s wife sneak out some of the leftovers from the feast inside the inn? Did the shepherds arrive with the Hebrew equivalent of shepherd’s pie?

            Or were Mary and Joseph also starving out there in the cold and dark?

            I can’t help thinking that Mary and Joseph were considerably worse off than the residents of today’s homeless camps. No extended family support. No community to commiserate. No Gospel Mission providing hot meals.

            The event we now celebrate as Christmas can’t have been very Merry. 


Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Oh, my, goodness – so much mail, so many good wishes, after last week’s column about the “brain fog” I experienced, possibly Covid-related. Or maybe not. Thank you for caring. I’ve treated some of your letters as being addressed to me personally, rather than to readers generally. 

            Yes, I will talk this over with my doctor. But have you tried to get a doctor’s appointment recently? I currently have an appointment for mid-February! 


Several of you offered cautious diagnoses. I include these on the off-chance that they might benefit some others who have had similar symptoms.

            Fran Ota: “What you describe sounds like Transient Ischemic Attacks…..TIA’s or tiny strokes. ‘Brain fog’ is often a normal part of aging…after everything else ruled out.”

            Robert Mason had something similar 16 years ago, which was eventually diagnosed as Myasthenia Gravis. 

            Laurna Tallman specializes in ear malfunctions, and their effect on the brain and balance systems. 


“Brain fog” is apparently more common than I had realized. 

            “One of my daughters reported brain fog after having Covid,” Tom Watson wrote. ”She was able, formerly, to readily convert inches to centimeters, and vice versa; now she has to think about it. She also has to focus more deliberately on her driving.”


Jim Henderschedt: “My experience with Covid did include a little brain fog but nothing like that.“


Dawne Taylor: “Keep an eye on your health, and consult with a doctor should you experience the same symptoms again.   Brain fog is no fun, and needs to be checked out.”


Along with some thoughts about Christmas, Bob Rollwagen had a recommendation about socks: “Obviously, you are well because you wrote the story. Maybe knee socks would be easier to pull up. Just be sure your chair has arms!”


Judyth Mermelstein also had thoughts about socks: “I haven’t had a ‘brain fog’ episode like that since my whooping cough a few years back but I’ve had to get used to periodic balance problems and hands that don’t always do as they’re told. 

            “I stopped wearing socks entirely about two years ago but have discovered there are gadgets that help with putting them on and am thinking of investing in one. But I’m becoming more useless at housekeeping tasks without dropping things and, like yourself, am recognizing that my days of living independently may be numbered.”


Ralph Milton: “Reading your column, I'm now worried and afraid, because those kinds of episodes increase in frequency and seriousness as you get older. Please talk this over with your doctor and ask whether you should be living in some sort of situation where you can quickly and easily get help. There are far too many instances of seniors spending a night or more on the floor. So please consider that episode a warning shot across your bow and talk it over with some health pros.”


Jim Hoffman: “Your recent bout with illness and disorientation does point out the dangers of living alone.  Physically, socially, mentally, emotionally, we need others in our lives to keep tabs on us and to provide assistance when needed. What you experienced can happen to any of us, especially as we become older and more vulnerable.”


Another recurring theme from your letters was concern about the symptoms of aging.


John Shaffer: “To think ‘that will soon be me’, it is not the most inspiring thought process to anticipate.  As I age, there are some things I can't do.  However, to be honest, I could never touch my toes, as my mother could up until the very last of her life.”


Randy Hall: “Your story frightened me – both for you and my future self.  It was real.  You felt helpless.  At 70 I am beginning to experience those limitations – the leg that won’t raise as high, a stride that becomes a shuffle, area rugs that become hurdles.  The old joke of forgetting what I went into a room to retrieve is less of a joke.  It is as if I am living into Tim Conway’s impersonation of an old man on the Carol Burnette show!

            “I applaud you for your honesty, for your continuing ability to express yourself in writing, and for the way that you have handled life’s sorrows with integrity.”


Steve Lawson: “Thanks for your foggy brain episode. It would have been good to blame Covid instead of, well, you know -- aging. I am celebrating my 76th birthday today and was told that now, yes, now, I am an "old man". Foggy brain will be the new phrase for the coming generation to define aging. It is a gentler way of accepting this fact of life.”


Judy Lochhead: “I can so relate to the fogginess after having both Covid and RSV in the past couple of months.  I just hope that ‘this too will pass’ and I will be restored to my old self, and sooner rather than later!”


Tony Netting experienced some unexpected side effects: “I just got over one of my worst colds in years and also had collateral damage – I didn't slide off a chair but lost my sense of taste.  Suddenly everything tasted like cardboard -- mushy cardboard, chewy cardboard or, since what vanished was actually my sense of smell,  sweet sour or salty cardboard…

            “Of course I looked online to find out about anosmia, as I learned the loss of a sense of smell is called. Bad move. The most authoritative source explained that anosmia happens when a virus invades the sensory neurons. Some people get back their sense of smell in six months, some, never.  Fortunately, before I had many days to dwell on that cheerful prospect, I caught a whiff of mint in my toothpaste, a hint of garlic from a cut clove. My smeller is more or less back to normal.  But the experience speaks to your point that, as we age, normal becomes increasingly fragile.”


Ruth Buzzard’s letter seems almost to have anticipated today’s column: “When I was walking to my car at a shopping centre in Arizona, I passed a shopping cart packed with what looked like a homeless person’s worldly possessions, and a man talking to himself on the sidewalk. I walked across the street to avoid him.

            “I am ashamed.  Tomorrow I am going to go back and, if he is still there, I am going to give him some serious cash and hope that he will be able to spend it on a decent meal or something to make life more comfortable.  I give to several charities monthly, but I ignored a real person in need (he was not asking for money).”




Psalm paraphrase


The lectionary calls for the reading of three psalms over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Psalms 96-98. I’ve chosen to go with a version of Psalm 97 this year. This may be Christmas, but our TVs screens will still be filled with pictures of destruction in Ukraine, of women being beaten and harassed in Iran and Afghanistan, of people starving in Somalia…


1          There is more here than mere chaos. 
We cannot understand this misery --
but it would be worse if there was no cause, no purpose. 
It cannot be just random chance. 

2          The shells rain down upon our cities; 
boiling clouds of destruction rise into the sky. 
Our enemies have power, and they use it. 

3          The onslaught darkens the day with smoke; 
it makes the night flicker with fire. 

4          The rocket's red glare slashes open the tomb of darkness; 
the ground beneath us trembles to the impact of missiles. 

5          Buildings collapse, as if the earth had been pulled out from beneath them; 
windows shatter into a thousand lances; 
no place is safe any more. 


6          In the midst of this devastation, we still believe in a God of justice and fairness; 
we believe in the God who brought order out of chaos. 

7          We need to believe that somehow, someone is in control; 
that the God we worship is not a graven image carved out of our own egos. 

8          If we are right, our children have a future; 
we can rejoice for them. 

9          If God were our creation, we would have no hope but in ourselves; 
then we would have no hope at all. 
But we are God's creation. 
We can trust that God is greater than our present pain. 

10        God has plans for those who cause others to suffer, 
for those who advance their own cause through violence. 
But the innocent will inherit a peace that surpasses understanding. 

11        In that confidence, we can go out into our shattered streets. 
We can share what little we have with each other. 

12        We are most favored of the Lord, 
for we have learned what God is like. 


Apparently the print version of my paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary is now out of print. But you can still order an e-book version of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com, or 1-800-663-2775






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)



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